Skip to content
Feb 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 16, 2014 – Genesis 42-44

Purposeful Pranks

Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, “Why are you staring at one another?” Genesis 42:1

Intro: This next episode begins wit a scene change

Joseph is now well-placed in Egypt, controlling the largest stockpile of food in the world
– the scene cuts to the humble campsite of his father
• feeling the pinch of the famine, Jacob hears about food in Egypt
• he sends his sons to buy grain in Egypt, but did not send Benjamin with them
○ his inner motivation is revealed: “I am afraid that harm may befall him”

Cut to Egypt
Joseph, while managing the grain distribution, spotted his brothers
– he immediately recognized them – but disguised himself (repeated for emphasis in verse 8)
• in essence, he made himself invisible so he could mess with them
– he accuses them of being “spies,” but they deny it, claiming to be “honest men”
• I think that angered him, remembering what they did to him

“Honest men! What about taking my coat from me and throwing me in a pit to die?! What about selling your own brother to slave-traders on their way to Egypt?! What did you tell father when I never returned home? Honest men! No, it is as I said to you, you are spies.”

○ to satisfy himself that they have changed, Joseph has to test them, as he said, to see “whether there is truth in you”
○ he threw them into prison – as he had been thrown into an Egyptian prison
• three days later, he made his decision as to what he was going to do with them
○ nine were to be sent home under threat of death
○ to prove they were telling the truth, they had to return with their youngest brother
– at that point, they began talking about Joseph in front of him (42:21)
• now we learn he had been talking to them through an interpreter
○ we learn something we had not known before
■ they saw his distress, and he had pleaded with them, but they did not “listen”
○ Joseph, too, learned new information
■ that Reuben had tried to protect him, but as with Joseph’s cries, they “would not listen”
○ this new information got to Joseph, so he turned from them to hide his tears
• then he had Simeon put in restraints in front of them to hold in custody until they returned
– Joseph’s next prank – he hid the money they brought to buy grain in their sacks
• at a rest point on the way home, one of the brothers opened his sack and found his money
○ the words that emerge in the story reveal how their emotional turmoil intensifies through the chapter:
“distress,” “hearts sank,” “trembled” – they were confused and terrified
• when they got home they shared the bad news with their father
○ but he was still unwilling to let Benjamin go with them
– when they all found their money in their sacks, it evoked a new wave of dismay
• Jacob’s pathetic cry, “all these things are against me!”
○ that was the perspective of the moment – but the perspective of the moment is always blind
• Reuben once again came forward with a plan — he would take responsibility for Benjamin’s welfare and if he did not return home with his kid brother, then Jacob could kill two of Reuben’s sons
○ great plan! If Jacob loses a son, he can be compensated for it by losing two grandsons
○ Reuben failed as miserably this time as when tried to rescue Joseph
○ his voice lacks force — perhaps because of a lack of intelligence or integrity
– chapter 42 ends with Jacob’s statement, “My son shall not go down with you. To lose him would destroy me.”

But the famine persisted and again supplies ran low
– as if pretending, he did not remember the conditions set by “the man,” Jacob suggests that his sons go buy a little food, “as though it were a matter of a trip to a nearby market” (Robert Alter)
• Judah answered that it was impossible to get an audience with Joseph without Benjamin
○ from now, Judah becomes the spokesperson for his brothers
– Judah’s second speech seals the deal
• Jacob must risk Benjamin or else they all will die
• unlike Reuben, Judah offered, not his sons, but himself as “surety” (guarantor, collateral)
– Jacob realized he had to give in, so he told them to take a gift (as he had sent gifts to win Esau’s heart)
At this point, we see a link with an earlier caravan so strong that we cannot ignore it
○ Joseph’s brothers sold him for “silver” to a caravan that was transporting balm, aromatic gum, and myrrh
○ now they take their silver to Egypt along with balm, aromatic gum, and myrrh along with three other presents
• they are repeating Joseph’s journey and, like Joseph, it seems they are destined to become slaves in Egypt
– Jacob sent them off with a benediction

. . . may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved (43:14)

• he entrusted their fate (and his) to El Shaddai, God Almighty
○ yet his outlook is fatalistic and despairing
– perhaps that is the only way to trust God — that our trust in him holds and is independent of the outcome (cf. Job 13:15)
– in Egypt, when Joseph saw Benjamin with his brothers, he ordered his servants to prepare a feast
• receiving his invitation, the brothers smelled a trap and panicked
• they were afraid he wanted to take them as slaves, with their donkeys! — as if Joseph coveted their donkeys
○ immediately they tried to make things right with Joseph’s steward regarding the money returned to them
○ he reassured them, “Be at ease, do not be afraid” (then he fed their donkeys)
• Joseph entered, greeted them, and blessed Benjamin
○ again he broke and got choked up – this time so intensely that he had run to his private chamber to weep
– the tension during meal must have been tangible
• the seating arrangement at table was according to their birth order
○ they were astonished – how did he know?
○ he will exploit this aura of mystery he created in his next prank
• meanwhile, wine began to flow and the tension eased

The next day, Joseph again gave the order to return their money, placing it in their sacks
– but he also had his silver cup hidden in Benjamin’s sack
• at sunrise, they were sent away (“with their donkeys,” 44:3)
• but Joseph did not allow them to get far
○ when his steward caught up with them, he accused them of stealing Joseph’s silver cup
○ they denied the accusation, saying if the cup was found with one of them, that one would die and the rest become Joseph’s slaves — when search was made, the cup was, of course, found in Benjamin’s sack
– Joseph’s bluff — did they really think they could get away with theft? “Do you not know that such a man as I can practice divination?”
– Judah’s first speech

What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found. (44:16)

• there is a  dual meaning in Judah’s words: First, he implies that they were guilty of this crime
○ Joseph knew they weren’t
• secondly, the reality is that they were guilty of a previous crime — against Joseph — and had never been caught
– when Joseph refused to take them all as slaves, Judah pressed harder and his speech reveals:
• how Jacob had interpreted Joseph’s disappearance
• how much Joseph was still in his father’s heart and thoughts
– Judah had come to accept Jacob’s favoritism
• had they resented Jacob earlier because of the special way he treated Joseph?
○ was that the reason they were able to cause him such great pain?
• Judah had matured – he was able to accept his parents as “persons”
– he offers himself in place of Benjamin — he would stay as Joseph’s slave, just let Benjamin go
• could not survive seeing his father suffer again

This was what Joseph wanted to see
– if they could turn back clock, would they betray him again?
• would they sacrifice Benjamin, their father’s other favored son, to save their own necks?
• were they capable of change?

Conc: Joseph’s pranks were obviously playful, even if harsh

But his brothers were never in any real danger – unlike what they had done to him
– but why were his pranks so elaborate? And why did he string them out so long?

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “And if a friend does you evil, then say: ‘I forgive you what you did to me; but that you have done it to yourself–how could I forgive that?’”

– no one else can fix me when I have betrayed myself
– Joseph and his brothers had unfinished business
• he played these pranks because:

We can’t diagnose our own spiritual illness and disorders
– God asked Israel,

When you fasted and mourned . . . these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? (Zech. 7:5)

– they thought so – they thought they had prayed because they had said prayers
• but they did not know God had not been listening (cf. Is. 1:15)
– the brothers needed to experience forgiveness within themselves to be able to move on
• they had carried their guilt a long time and it remained close to the surface (42:21)

Memories store psychological energy
– they produce feelings in the present: anxiety, guilt, resentment, despair, etc.
– our brains can run themselves: fixed neural pathways, habits, old programs
• but when they run themselves, we become passengers in our own lives
○ controlled by our automatic reactions — anger flares, sadness overwhelms us, fear disables us
• I went for years with a perpetually dark outlook, because I lived with my back to light
– we can’t change what we did in the past, but we can change how we experience our memories
• how is this possible

First and foremost, by fully experiencing the compassion and forgiveness of Jesus Christ

We do not have to live for years as victims of our past — like Joseph’s brothers
– their suffering resulted from their refusal to listen

So let’s make certain we are listening and paying attention to those important inner voices:
– our current experience, mood, and memory
• in and through that, let’s listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to us
• the “still small voice,” the gentle impulses

When we sit with God in silence, we are in his examination room
– let’s listen to what he has to say, when we ask:

Search me, O God, and know my heart
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
(Psalm 139:23-24)

Leave a comment